If councils spend too much on their own pay, they have less money to fund the public services that ratepayers expect

News Letter editorial of Wednesday April 7 2021:

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 8:45 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 10:44 am
News Letter editorial

The number of senior council officers who earn more than £100,000 has risen in Northern Ireland.

In one council, for example, Mid and East Antrim, there was one official in that category in the financial year ending 2019, a year later it was eight such staff members.

This increase did not happen during lockdown, or it would look even worse than it does.

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But even so it is a sharp increase.

There has been a similar rise in six figure executives in other parts of the UK.

It is by no means unreasonable for the person who runs a very large local government district to earn six figures.

Very many senior business people in the private sector do, as do very many highly trained professionals.

Some teachers who lead large schools have salaries at or around that level.

But while a salary package of £100k+ might well be justifiable, it is very important that it is indeed explained and justified.

The new trend towards transparency in salaries that are funded by other people’s taxes is an important one.

Even private sector businesses can fall into the temptation of overly rewarding senior executives. That temptation can be all the greater if there is a large pot of public cash to draw on, and in which there is no paying customer to complain.

In many respects the greater problem with many councils is not what happens at the very top, but the less visible growth of overly paid and overly staffed bureaucracies.

There needs to be constant vigilance about such growth because it sucks money away from the core services that hard-pressed ratepayers are paying to receive.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance watchdog deserves credit for its annual Town Hall ‘rich lists’ and the scrutiny that it helps to bring to local public finances.

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Alistair Bushe